Wallonia is strategically placed to become the next center for the development of clean hydrogen, with a post-coronavirus stimulus package that makes way for the development of green hydrogen. Wallonia indeed wishes to invest more than €160 million (US$196 million) in the development of a Walloon hydrogen industry.
In a nutshell, hydrogen (H2) can be the perfect way to:
Wallonia in Belgium implemented an ambitious H2 strategy based on:
Wallonia is at the root of projects such as the construction of a hydrogen production station, generated by the incineration of waste in Charleroi. This hydrogen is then used to power local buses. Wallonia also invested in a project led by Liège Airport and the company John Cockerill, focusing on the construction of a station to transform the electricity produced by solar panels into hydrogen to power the airport’s vehicles and interested local firms, thus creating a hydrogen cluster.
John Cockerill is a global player in the energy transition. With more than 200 years of experience in energy and industry, he is now developing innovative technological solutions that contribute to the decarbonization of human activities, whether it is a question of developing new production capacities of 'electricity from renewable energies, to store green electricity or to optimize the energy efficiency of existing power plants and industrial equipment. It adapts its technologies and expertise to the specific needs of its energy and industrial customers. Thanks to its electrolyzers, with the largest capacities in the world (from 5 to 1000 Nm³/ h), it meets the growing hydrogen needs of the mobility, industry and energy markets. Today, John Cockerill is positioned as the world leader in hydrogen with 70MW sold in 2020, or 20% market share and already 1000 references in the sale of electrolyzers worldwide. John Cockerill is thus making his technological contribution to the fight against climate change. In 2020, it achieved a turnover of 1.01 billion euros in 19 countries on 5 continents.
John Cockerill's DQ 1000 Electrolyzer of 5 MW of power consumption
Wallonia offers numerous advantages for the development of a hydrogen industry: a central position, right between the electrical, gas, road and fluvial transportation grids, not forgetting a capacity to implement technological innovations very quickly. Another example: a clean, carbon-free hydrogen corridor with H2 stations is emerging between Wallonia and Catalonia to carry fruits and vegetables from Morocco, Spain, and Portugal through hydrogen trucks and trailers.
Green hydrogen is therefore a priority for Wallonia, which has dedicated a budget of nearly €8 million (US$9.8 million) to research and innovation over three years. The Walloon Region appears among the most active regions in Europe. These research projects focus on each level of the energy industry, among them:
Other projects are also being studied, some more advanced than others. For example, Wallonia could produce clean hydrogen from mine gas. This project is led by a research center based in Mons, Materia Nova. Its goal is to produce hydrogen from methane, a component of firedamp. This highly flammable gas, mainly released from coal mines, is transformed into thermal energy and electricity. Nevertheless, this process produces CO2. Most of the hydrogen used in the industry today is derived from methane (grey hydrogen), which can be explained by the cost of water electrolysis, which is three to four times higher than grey hydrogen, and by the quantity of water, which is much more important. However, the hydrogen produced from water molecule appears to be “THE” solution for green or sustainable hydrogen since this method doesn’t create CO2. This solution is bound to develop, but it will take time.
The process developed by Materia Nova allows the use of existing and profitable technologies while avoiding the production of CO2 and is also a transitional solution between the polluting and omnipresent grey hydrogen and the non-profitable green hydrogen. Currently, two main deposits have been identified in Wallonia: the first is biomethane, particularly present in agriculture, and the second is firedamp, a source available for hydrogen and carbon production, especially as solid carbon (or black carbon) has its own industrial purposes among which the best-known is the tire industry, which represents roughly 70% of the global carbon black market, and black plastics. More and more applications are growing: in paintings, in high-added value applications, such as battery electrodes, for instance. Other applications of solid carbon are being studied, especially in agriculture, where it could eventually be used to make infertile soil fertile. Materia Nova’s project gathers a consortium of Walloon manufacturers: whitewash and glass producers and a major fertilizer producer. The current goal is to identify all Walloon mines where mine gas could be used to produce clean hydrogen.
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